Barnsley are on the brink of breaking into the League One play-off places. Laura Jones asks whether this is bringing the joy back to the town and club.
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When Ian McMillan became Barnsley FC’s poet in residence in 1997, he wrote a poem every week about what it was like for a town such as Barnsley to be in the Premier League. At the end of the season an anthology was published called It’s Just Like Watching Brazil and although the Premier League football didn’t last beyond that season, there is an air of joy about the poetry.
In McMillan’s book, there is a photo of a supporter dressed how he imagined a Brazilian dresses. He’s wearing a sombrero, has an inflatable parrot and is holding a bottle of pop that he’s written the word ‘tequila’ across. His representation was innocent in its cultural stereotyping and also innocently inaccurate. What does come across in the photo is that for that season Barnsley were seen as important and worth dressing up for.
Before they were just the ‘Dingles’, a provincial town that had been ravaged by successive Tory governments systematically dismantling the surrounding industries and supporters losing their jobs by the pit load. So what if they wanted to celebrate by dressing up as faux Mexicans? After such a long time there was a sense of elation.
That joy has been hard to come by since for the Tykes but there is a glimmer shining through the landscape of European funded industrial estates, where the pits entrances once stood. At Oakwell, there is youth and exuberance in their management.
Lee Johnson, former manager of Oldham Athletic and one-time youngest Football League manager, was put in charge of the club in February. Since then the club have gone on a nine-match unbeaten run. In their last two games they have taken points off automatic promotion-pushing Bristol City and Preston North End.
Barnsley are on the brink of the play-off’s going into the Easter fixtures, with their next game being important for more than just three points: it’s a matter of local pride. Sheffield United, their South Yorkshire rivals, are five points above the Tykes. A home win in the local derby could see them bounce into the play-off places. This scenario is dependent on Rochdale losing to Preston as well.
There are a number of teams close behind them, who are seeking the same sort of form that Barnsley are in, but on paper, their run-in looks like it could continue to be joyful. The Tykes play Rochdale on the last day of the season and they’ll be hoping that their place in the play-offs will already be booked by then.
There may not be fans dressed as Mexicans/Brazilians just yet but the potential for toasting with a bottle of tequila pop doesn’t feel too far away.
Read more from Laura Jones here!